UK levels of physical inactivity

The UK’s levels of physical inactivity is a serious concern

It’s incredibly disappointing to see the results of the latest research from the World Health Organization (WHO), revealing that very little progress has been made in reducing levels of physical inactivity worldwide.

The WHO report (which analysed data from surveys in 168 countries and 1.9 million people) estimates that more than a quarter of people worldwide (1.4 billion) are not doing enough physical exercise. And the risks of inactivity are pretty serious – the increased chance of health issues such as heart disease, type-2 diabetes and cancer.

Perhaps most damning is that the UK scored particularly badly. In fact, high-income countries, in general, were among the least active.

Who is classed as inactive? Those who did less than 150 minutes of moderate exercise – or 75 minutes at a vigorous intensity – every week.

The UK’s worryingly poor performance

This report comes after a report from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) revealed more than 20 million people in the UK are physically inactive, and a further study suggesting a lack of exercise is causing as many deaths as smoking across the world.

The BHF report warned of the dangers of inactivity, which costs the NHS around £1.2bn each year:

  • In the UK, physical inactivity contributes to almost one in 10 premature deaths from coronary heart disease and one in six deaths from any cause.
  • Three-quarters of people in England (76%), when referred for rehabilitation after suffering a heart attack or having heart surgery, are considered physically inactive.
  • More than 5 million deaths worldwide can be attributed to physical inactivity, making it one of the top 10 leading causes of death.

Levels of physical inactivity and sedentary behaviour in the UK remain stubbornly high, and, combined, these two risk factors present a substantial threat to our cardiovascular health and risk of early death.

“Evidence shows keeping physically active can reduce the risk of heart and circulatory disease by as much as 35% and risk of early death by as much as 30%.”

Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the BHF
Table of inactivity according to regions

Recommended levels of exercise

The WHO recommends people to take part in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week.

Graphic: Physical activity guidelines. Children 5-18 should have 60 mins of physical activity every day, Adults 19-64 should have 150 mins of moderate aerobic exercise per week, Adults 65+ should have 150 mins of moderate aerobic exercise and strength exercises two days a week

What is moderate intensity activity? 

Moderate exercise includes fast walking, cycling on flat ground and hiking. 

What is vigorous intensity activity?

Vigorous exercise includes running, fast swimming, hilly cycling, high-intensity sports (like tennis and football and gymnastics.

Cycling and running an answer? 

At Vivi Nation, we promote cycling and running as they are two of the most accessible methods of exercise readily available. It takes very little to get started and the health benefits are enormous.  

If we are to improve the UK’s levels of physical activity and health, cycling and running can be at the forefront of positive change.

Chris Smith
Founder of Vivi Nation, sports enthusiast, occasional triathlete, keen cyclist and optimistic Liverpool FC fan.

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